Nashville SC

Press conference: Gary Smith, Dax McCarty, and Walker Zimmerman after Nashville SC season ends in Columbus

Watch or read full comments from head coach Gary Smith and two of his players after Nashville SC’s 2-0 loss to Columbus Crew.

Head coach Gary Smith

“I’m very disappointed and deflated in the way that, you know, we’ve crashed out of the playoffs. But I have to say I’m incredibly proud of the way the guys have gone about their business. We’ve lost a very, very tight game tonight against an exceptionally good Columbus team with many, many different avenues to create and score, and in the end it’s taken 120 minutes for them to beat us after a very difficult journey to this point.

“I think the play-in game, 120 minutes on Tuesday, once you get into overtime again, starts to have a bit of an effect physically, and there’s no doubt in my mind that that was a pivotal moment and one that went very much against us.”

Is there a sense of amazement at what the team was able to accomplish this year?

“Yeah, I do. I mean, there’ll be a lot of reflection in the coming days and weeks on what we’ve been able to put together here. How we have navigated a very difficult season, what we’ve achieved, obviously, and how we strengthened, and that wil be happening, I’m sure, in many, many places.

“But on that basis, I’m delighted not only with where we’ve been able to extend ourselves to in this second round of the playoffs, I’m delighted in the way that the guys have conducted themselves. Not an easy game: second one in five days away from home against very, very good teams in MLS. And I think we’ve given a very good account of ourselves. Yes, there are some areas we can improve on, but to your point, with a first-year group, we’ll all be, I’m sure, very pleased about the progress we’ve made.

“The shame is tonight, we won’t be looking at what was achieved, we’ll just be disappointed about a result. But we’ll take a deep breath and let the dust settle, and try and be a little more positive about the way this season has unfolded.”

What did you see on those final plays where Gyasi Zardes was able to get in-behind for a goal and an assist?

“The first goal was instrumental. I’m sure that everyone saw that – the way the game was unfolding – not many good opportunities either end. We look back on the one that hits the crossbar and bounces out instead of in. Joe [Willis] made a fabulous save at he near post. But aside that, there weren’t too many clear-cut opportunities, and the stats in the game tell us exactly what it was: after 90 minutes, it was very, very competitive and we very much held our own.

“The first goal, I felt as though the ball needed to be dealt with at source. I can’t remember who it was who wriggled out on our right-hand side, their left, right in front of us [on the bench] actually. But what we could see was that, being able to play beyond that defensive line. Zardes was in full flow then, and it was always going to be a problem, and it needed to be dealt with at source, and it wasn’t.

“The real difficulty is, good sides like this Columbus group keep pushing, keep asking questions. There’s some very, very talented attacking players in this group. For a long, long time, we’ve been able to keep them under wraps. But it was always going to be a tough task, and we certainly needed to be more of a threat going forward. To maybe just question their confidence as they committed players forward.”

What did you see from the three DPs, and what does that say about their futures?

“A lot of our creative and attacking play was always going to be falling at their feet or on their shoulders to make the best of. We’ve leant on them heavily in the last month or so. I

“I think Jhonder has helped immensely. He’s come in and given us a different dimension. He’s slowly-but-surely gained better physical status: he’s got better endurance, so therefore over the last three games I think he’s played 65, 70, and 90 minutes today. Which I wouldn’t have believed when he first turned up. So that’s progress. I do think we’ll see the best of him next year. It’s taken him a good while not only to get fit, but to really form some sort of connection with the group. I thought Hany was very, very bright tonight. It didn’t quite work for him, it didn’t quite come off. And unfortunately for us, we were looking for a defining moment from one of those trio, and it never came off. For Randall, listen, he’s been absolutely outstanding in my eyes for a good long while.

It was tough for all three of them tonight. They were kept under very tight wraps from a good backline. There were some things within the creative connections that could have been better, but the simplicity of this is: you’re in a semifinal. If you want to win, you’ve got to have those guys that creatively turn up on the day. You maybe need an hero or two in front of goal. And you’ve got to be ultra-competitive. Well, we tick one of those boxes, and for 90 minutes, we’ve been ultra competitive. But unfortunately on the day, we weren’t able to find that moment, and our hero went missing.

“But we’ve had many, many occasions where we’ve had more than one hero turn up. And tonight, I was waiting for it, but unfortunately it didn’t happen, and that is knockout football.”

How much did tired legs play for your second extra-time game in six days?

“I think you saw the impact of that into extra time. Up until that point, I felt as though, you know, there were enough qualities within the group to find a result, and why wouldn’t I? It was 0-0, they’d huffed and puffed, we’d done likewise. The substitutions were all about adding energy. For probably the last 10-12 minutes of that second period, we found it very, very difficult to get out of our half. There was a lot of effort expelled making sure that they were limited, and I felt the necessity to get Daniel on and maybe threaten in-behind a little bit more, and stretch the game out again. He’d done a good job for us in Connecticut against Toronto. Taylor likewise – Derrick was terrific when he came on.

“But the simple fact is, we still have to find a period in the game – we still have to have the clarity in possession – to make a good chance, and a goal-scoring moment. Through their very good defensive play, through our lack of edge on the night, and I do think, tired, tired legs – and to your point, yes, it was a tough, tough game on Tuesday, and I think the extra time here today started to have a little bit of an effect, and you have to expect it would.”

What is the message to the team in the locker room? Do you start to put a bow on the season, or is it all about tonight’s result only?

“Today’s all about the result, it’s all about the performance. I’ve said a couple of things in there to my feelings on the way that they’ve performed, how they’ve projected themselves, how they’ve just constantly performed with such a magnificent attitude. So professional in the very first year of this organization. I don’t think any of us in coaching or senior positions at the club could’ve asked for any more from a group of players. They’ve been absolutely wonderful.

“But there’s nothing I can say tonight that’s going to make anyone feel any better. We all feel very deflated, and understandably so. The game was there to be won, we all believed we had enough in our group to do so. We’d proved against some good sides on the way here and our form was in a good place. There was no reason to believe otherwise. So unfortunately, that makes the fall even greater. Because, if you come into it with a lack of belief, then part of you’s already getting ready for a bad result and a defeat. So nobody was in that place.

“We’ll all go home, we’ll gather ourselves, and over the coming days and weeks, we can look back and have a discussion maybe a little more in-depth on the season, but also behind the scenes, start to think about how we continue to get stronger, because this is a platform. This isn’t the end product. And we have to continue to improve, and we’ll do our very utmost to do that.”

Dax McCarty and Walker Zimmerman

What pride do you have in the way this season played out?

McCarty: “Yeah good season. Frustrating way to lose. I think we have a lot to be proud of – the way we grew stronger throughout the season. Sometimes, life is a little bit bigger than the game, and I think we can all agree that most of the time this season it was more about what was happening off the field than on the field. But when we did get on the field, like I said, I thought we grew stronger throughout the season.

“Getting two good wins in the playoffs is a nice feeling for us, but obviously losing tonight leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, and it’s one that obviously is extremely frustrating to end the season on. Just have to digest it, move on, try to get better.”

How does it feel to set high expectations for the club going forward?

Zimmerman: “I mean, Dax covered a lot of how I feel as well. It’s a lot of things going on that are a lot bigger than us. It was a lot of resiliency that was shown from the group this year. And you know, that part makes us feel really proud as leaders of the group, just to continue to try to drive us along each and every day: get better every day and challenge ourselves. I thought we did that for the most part, and we progressed throughout the year, we got better.

“Like Dax said, got two win in the playoffs, but we had our chances tonight, and that’s what’s going to make it more difficult. It’s not a game where we were on our heels and they had really amazing chances: it was kind of back-and-forth, and you know, one play can change it all. So: tough pill to swallow. It’s never fun having your season end short of your ultimate goals, but we’re going to take it in stride, and I’m sure guys are going to be ready to rest and recover, and then start working on things that they can improve on for next season.”

What was the key for the Columbus defense that made life tough on you?

Zimmerman: “Honestly, they’re a good defensive group. They’re solid in their organization, they’ve got two centerbacks who are very good in the air, fullbacks who are very technical and can keep possession. so that part is no different than how we defend. I think, you know, we had our chances tonight. We had plays that were: two off the goal line in the first half, we had some crosses that were dangerous. Really in that first 90 minutes, I think either team could have won it, and either team could have gotten that one goal.

“So they’re a good defense, they’re a good team, there’s a reason why they got such a high seed for the playoffs and got this home game. But like I said, I think it was there for us, and came up a little bit short.”

When the chances are coming but not falling, do you feel pressure to get involved offensively to try to make something happen?

McCarty: “Sometimes. I think that for the most part, it was a pretty clear tactical battle between both teams tonight. I think that we earned a lot of their respect in the way that they defended against us. They didn’t press us as high, we created chances.

“Ultimately for me, during the game, we’re just not sharp enough in the final third. We have a couple chances here and there, obviously really dangerous on set pieces. From the run of play, I just think we had too many loose passes, too many loose touches, not clinical enough in the final third when we had little opportunities to break forward. The difference in the game, honestly guys, is just one or two mental lapses and breakdowns from us in the back where Columbus took advantage and they were ruthless. And so, those are the fine margins, those are the tough lessons that we have to learn, and it’s extremely frustrating sitting here right now having not won the game.

“But yeah, I don’t feel any pressure to go forward or not. I try to just take what the game gives me. It’s a little different with Brian Anunga in there, I think I have a little bit more freedom to go forward and try to be a little bit more dangerous, and then Derrick Jones, he’s obviously a little bit better going forward and so I try to sit in and give us that player in front of the back line. It just kind of is take what the game gives you.

How much fun has the journey of 2020 been, especially when the expectations weren’t high to begin with?

Zimmerman: “You know, honestly we’re really lucky. You look at this year for a lot of people, and a lot of people lost jobs, a lot of people had mental struggles with the pandemic. We’re humans too: and we face these challenges. But at the end of the day, we got to get back to playing, and that’s what we love to do. And to be able to do that for a living, it’s the best job in the world to be able to compete for a living, and go out there and represent a city and a club.

“I felt really proud to represent Nashville this year. I think we’re growing, and we set a very good foundation for what’s to come. And it is fun: it’s fun when you’re winning, and especially in the playoffs, and you feel this sense of ‘we can do this’ mentality. Honestly, I mean, I felt that way all the way, even down 2-0. I thought going into extra time, I thought ‘this team always has fight in it, and it always has a belief.’ That’s fun. It’s fun to compete with these guys, and to become better friends off the field. So you know, amidst all the chaos, I consider ourselves very lucky, and it’s just always fun to compete.”

McCarty: “It’s really difficult for me to answer that question right now, unfortunately, because the disappointment with the season ending for me is just so, so apparent, and it’s so fresh. I thin kin a few days or a week we can look back on the season and say how great of a season it was considering the circumstances that we all went through.

“But right now, I think the reason I feel so much disappointment and so much frustration at our season ending is because there was a real belief, I think, in our group after the Toronto game that we could go on and really win MLS Cup. You can’t say that very often about an expansion team.”

“These moments don’t come around too often. So it’s hard for me to talk about fun right now. But I think Walker summed it up very succinctly and very nicely that when you’re winning and when you get to do what you love, and when you get to be on the field in such a difficult time for everyone in their lives going through a pandemic right now, it’s a great feeling. It’s an escape from what the real world is all about right now. I think the way that the city of Nashville embraced us throughout our season is something that I’m so proud of and I’m so thankful that we get to play for a city and a club that really supports its players.

“This is the foundation that’s been set. Hopefully we can get better: we need to get better in the offseason. I think that the coaching staff and the front-office staff know that – and we know that as players – that There will be changes, but we need to keep trying to push this thing to get to the next level. Because we want to win trophies, and we want to win championships. In order to do that, you have to keep pushing the envelope. So hopefully we can do that.”

“These are our ‘thrilled to be here’ faces.”

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